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Frugal Innovation Working for the Collective Good

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Recently I settled in to listen to In Business with BBC journalist Peter Day. Innovation and transformation of people's lives, economies, etc., is very much part of the No Straight Lines project so I was thrilled to hear Professor Jaideep Prabhu from the Cambridge University Judge Business school and Professor Anil Gupta from the Indian Institute of Management talk about Jugaad Innovation. Jugaad is a Hindi word meaning an innovation; an improvised solution born from ingenuity and resourcefulness when faced with scarce resources.

Frugal Innovation is the means by which everyday people find solutions to everyday problems, by using not much more than their ingenuity, and skills of observation. These entrepreneurs are also social innovators as they work for the collective good. For me this is about Craftsmanship. The Craftsman will ask this simple but important question: is what I conceive, create and make for the collective good? Or put another way - does it serve a wider humanity?

Innovating for the collective good
It is an important question to ask, however, as Anil Gupta observes if these innovations are relevant for "all" mankind they will be ubiquitously adopted. Serving all humanity can have its benefits.

Frugal Innovation requires some hard questions to be answered. Is it affordable within the context of that economy? Or, is it accessible for everyone within everyday culture? It requires as Jaideep says a rethink of how this is achieved. From fridges that requires none of the conventional parts of what we would call a fridge, to splints for broken bones, Jugaad innovation argues the authors, has much to teach us.

Also in the programme is an important cameo role of the late C.K. Prahalad, Prahalad contends in a previous interview with Peter Day that, we could do nothing about the 4.5bn people around the world living poverty or we could do something about it. In this instance improving their material lives is a useful KPI. 4.5 bn people Prahalad says want to join the market economies of the world.

Frugal lessons
Professor Prabhu says in the interview there are lessons for us all - in many ways this resonates, as we see increasingly our humanity looking towards a better future, that is designed and created around the needs of humanity, what we as humans need to grow and develop.

Indeed how we do respond to adversity, to creating a more sustainable and resilient world? How do we reconcile what we take, what we make, and what we waste? As we bgin to become aware that we cannot afford business as usual.

Professor Prabhu in conversation explains how some of these amazing creations come into being, originated by ordinary people existing in extraordinary circumstances. So we get the story of the fridge made of clay and an extraordinary collection of these innovations are curated on what is called the Honey Bee Network.

And the story that follows is very much about appreciative inquiry, a requirement for us to listen deeply and learn from all that which surrounds us, even if it does not come from our normal sources of information and influence.

The real voyage of discovery
For me this poses the question if we cannot afford business as usual where do we need to look for inspiration and guidance? How do we minimize resources and maximize value? The answer is that real voyage of discovery is to look upon our world, as Proust would say, with fresh eyes. Frugal innovation I would suggest, is part of that voyage.